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Part 6 – Evidence of effectiveness

Before using intervention teaching it is important to have evidence of effectiveness. In this section, research carried out by Dr Marlynne Grant provides interesting and compelling evidence.

Part 6: Evidence of effectiveness

Before taking on new ideas, it is important to know how well they work and what evidence there is to support them. In education, there have been many ideas that were really based on fashion rather than facts; they were certainly not based on what works best for all the children. For example, it was not so long ago that teachers were told that children should not sound out words and blend them. Instead, children should learn to recognise frequently used words by memorising their shapes and then ‘read’ other words by using clues and prompts (such as the picture, the context and the first letter) to help them predict the words. The books the children were given often used humorous pictures and repetitive sentences, such as:

The dog was hot.

The kangaroo was hot.

The pig was hot.

The hippopotamus was hot.

The rabbit was hot.

The goat was hot…

but not the elephant.

(On the last picture there would be a picture of a smiling elephant standing in a pool of water, using his trunk to give himself a cold shower.)

Most of the children could manage these books by memorising the repetitive sentences and using the pictures to help them substitute the name of each animal. The snag was that the children thought they could read, but the likelihood is that they would not have been able to read the words at all without any context or pictures.

This method of teaching was poor advice for teachers. The idea behind it was that children would learn the words by being exposed to them many times. Some children, as has been mentioned before, did manage to remember the words and went on to work out how the code worked for themselves. However, a large number of children were failed, and still are failed, when they are expected to memorise words and use pictures and context for clues. There are still some schools where, in the early stages, the children are given reading books that use words that they cannot work out because the words have letter sounds in them that the children have not been taught. This causes many of the problems we associate with learning to read and is particularly detrimental to the children who struggle and who need intervention.

There is a code to reading and writing, and when children are taught to use the code from the beginning, it is possible for all children in mainstream education to become successful at reading and writing. This is not just my opinion: there is a great deal of evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of synthetic-phonics teaching. For a start, there have been many research studies and case studies carried out with Jolly Phonics and these are available on the Jolly Learning website (www.jollylearning.co.uk). Other synthetic-phonics programmes have also measured the effectiveness of this type of teaching. (Information on their findings can be found in the Resources section.) However, my favourite report showing detailed evidence of effectiveness was written by Dr Marlynne Grant.

Dr Grant measured the progress made by the children in two schools over several years. In these two longitudinal studies, she demonstrates what children can achieve, especially those who are considered vulnerable to failure (in other words, those children who are more likely to have problems with learning to read). The Department for Education identified the following groups as being vulnerable:

  • Boys (on average, boys have been considerably poorer than girls on national tests for many years)
  • Children from low-income families who qualify for free school meals
  • Pupil Premium children
  • Children whose ethnicity is non-white British
  • Children whose first language is not English
  • Children with special educational needs
  • Children with summer birthdays

Let us look at the children in the first school in Dr Grant’s report. This school had a high level of social and special educational needs. The 30 children in Reception class (the first year in school) were studied from 2010 to 2013. None of the children could read or knew any letter sounds when they started at the school.

At the end of each year, the children were tested using the BAS-ll Word Reading and Spelling Achievement Scales (a test used by educational psychologists). The results were remarkable: by the end of the third year, every category was marked above average or high. The results demonstrated that even so-called vulnerable groups were able to do extremely well and achieve above-average results. For many years now, with the usual mixed methods of teaching and whole-word learning, there have been far more boys failing in their reading than girls. Yet when they are taught synthetic phonics, they tend to achieve the same results as girls, or even better. For example, the report found that seven-year-old boys were reading, on average, 36 months above their chronological reading age (which means they were reading like ten-year-olds) and writing 27 months above their chronological spelling age. And if they are compared to national figures for boys, using the standard assessment tests, you can see that the study school achieved 100% for both reading and writing, compared to the 84% (reading) and 78% (writing) that was achieved nationally.

In case you are thinking that a class of 30 children is not enough for a fair comparison, look at the evidence from the next school. This was a very large school with children who, on school entry, were at the very lowest level for language and at the second lowest level for social skills in the national assessment that was carried out at that time. They certainly were not from the leafy suburbs, where parents have enough money to pay for extra tuition if their children are struggling. And here are the interesting results. Over eight years, nearly 700 children were tested at the end of their first year at school (when they were four or five years old) and again at the end of primary school (when they were eleven years old). At eleven years old, children should be achieving Level 4 or above, and the school scored 94%, compared to 77% for the rest of England; 65% of the children achieved Level 5 (which is two years above) compared to 26% for other English schools; 6% of the children and 15% of other English schools were at Level 3 (a year below the standard); and no children at the school were at Level 2 and below (four years below the standard), compared to 7% in the rest of England.

However, what is particularly interesting in this report is the part on dyslexia:

These studies demonstrate that dyslexia does not develop when children begin with a good synthetic phonics programme and when slow-to-start children are given early practice and teaching with synthetic phonics in order to keep up. Not a single child in the studies developed severe literacy difficulties.

It is worth reading the whole report, which can be downloaded by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen in the section Preventing Problems, Part 6. It explains the teaching and gives recommendations for improvement, as well as providing detailed results. The teaching and intervention follow the same synthetic-phonics principles as recommended on this website.

The length of time that a child needs intervention support will vary enormously. A few children really are just slow to start and perhaps a little immature for their age; with a little extra support, they quickly catch up and no longer need intervention. Other children, however, may have some specific problems, linked to:

  • speech and language
  • concentration
  • memory
  • hearing loss
  • dyslexic-type tendencies
  • behaviour
  • speed of processing and movement

With the right kind of teaching, these problems can be overcome in normal state education, as has been shown in Dr Marlynne Grant’s report, as well as in many other pieces of research that have been carried out around the world.

It should be the top priority in every primary school to ensure that all children in their final year leave being able to read and write confidently at or above their chronological age, so that they can take full advantage of their secondary education.

This aim is more difficult to achieve when a struggling child transfers from another school at an older age. Then it is more a question of identifying any reading and writing problems before providing extra support. This aspect is covered in the next section: Identifying Reading and Writing Problems.

And that concludes the teaching on this section.

 

 

 

  • Letter-sound Box

    Print the letter sounds on one side of thin card or paper, and the appropriate words on the other side. Cut up. Use as recommended.

  • Letter-sound Box - print letters

    Print the letter sounds on one side of thin card or paper, and the appropriate words on the other side. Cut up. Use as recommended.

  • Consonant blends

    It is helpful to blend the consonant blend and learn to say it joined together.

  • Consonant blends - print letters

    It is helpful to blend the consonant blend and learn to say it joined together.

  • Consonant and short vowel

    It is helpful to blend the consonant and short vowel and learn to say them joined together.

  • Consonant and short vowel - print letters

    It is helpful to blend the consonant and short vowel and learn to say them joined together.

  • Consonant blend and short vowel

    It is helpful to blend the consonant blend and short vowel and learn to say them joined together.

  • Consonant blend and short vowel - print letters

    It is helpful to blend the consonant blend and short vowel and learn to say them joined together.

  • Words for blending in Steps 1 - 5

    Words are in squares for the children to use for blending practice. They are in the same order that is used for teaching the letter sounds. As each new letter sound is taught more words that use the new letter sound, and the previously taught ones, become available.

  • Words for blending in Steps 1 - 5- print letters

    Words are in squares for the children to use for blending practice. They are in the same order that is used for teaching the letter sounds. As each new letter sound is taught more words that use the new letter sound, and the previously taught ones, become available.

  • Teacher's Word Bank for Steps 1 - 5

    Useful words for blending practice. More words are provided as each letter sound is taught. It helps to ensure the words are decodable.

  • Dr Marlynne Grant's Research - follow-up longitudinal studies

    It is well worth reading the whole report. It demonstrates what can be achieved with good synthetic-phonics teaching in the classroom and, if necessary, in intervention groups.